As anyone who has ever had children will attest, there is often a pressure that comes from goodness knows where that ‘little Johnny’ or ‘little Jane’ should crawl/walk/talk/ before any of the others in the inevitable mums and baby group. But where does this pressure come from and is it helpful? Absolutely not says Ollwyn Moran, founder of the multi-award winning Cognikids range of child development products.
Based in Ireland and a regular contributor to Ireland AM as their child development expert, Ollwyn has over 22 years in the Education and Child Development space and her products have found favour with influencers such as Joe Wicks (aka The Body Coach) and Vogue Williams.
“[the pressure] comes historical books on child development being very prescriptive on the ages when milestones should happen instead of focusing on the fact that they are sequential and that is the most important part. It’s not about how young your child walks. This is actually an early indicator red flag! If your baby walks at 9 months and skipped crawling, in the clinical world, this is not something that is celebrated.”
Ollwyn’s passion for celebrating each stage of a child’s development comes from her own experience which led her to give up a successful career in teaching to concentrate full time on developing products that are intuitive for babies and young children to use but which actually help their brains to develop by refining and developing fine and gross motor skills.
Motor skill development is something that is becoming of increasing concern among paediatric occupational and speech and language therapists as children spend more and more time using electronic devices, touch screens and keyboards and less time using pens and paper:
“It is a huge concern. There are more and more studies being published that support this. And what is more worrying is that no one has made the link to the fact that all fine motor skills are operated from the same area in the brain – so fine motor movements in the hands, feet and mouth are operated from the same space in the brain. Which means that if there is a lag/delay in one area there will be a delay in the other areas also. Talk to any paediatric OT/SLT and they will tell you they are seeing huge increases in the numbers of children coming through with speech difficulties and when they test the other fine motor skills they are delayed also. It does correlate to screen use. Without a doubt.”
Like children needing to learn to walk before they can run (successfully!), Cognikids has had to take it one step at a time and there are some undeniable similarities with the journey Ollwyn has been on thus far.
The eldest of three children, Ollwyn studied psychology at Ireland’s Maynooth University, and was planning to do a veterinary course in the UK. Unfortunately changes to course eligibility criteria and prohibitive fees led to Ollwyn opting instead to follow her second career choice of teaching. Any dreams of helping the next Stephen Hawkins discover a love for the sciences were soon dispelled:
“The priority was not to get them understanding the pH scale or Newtons Law. For many it was life skills and coping mechanisms for the environments they were in within the school. They were struggling to maintain focus, to sit on chairs, to stay upright at the desk, to write, to follow instructions given orally, to engage with each other respectfully and so on. These issues meant they were dealing with frustration, anger, lack of confidence and self-esteem, poor resilience, low motivation.”
Ollwyn continued to study and trained for a further 2 years in Chester at the INPP (Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology) which combined her love for human biology, especially the brain, her passion for child development and education and passion for developmental psychology. This would prove invaluable for her future career path which came about as a result of her first son being born premature.
Knowing how important the crawling stage is for any child’s future development regardless of whether the child is premature or born at full term, Ollwyn noticed that the modern home environment of wooden floors combined with slippery tiled floors were not conducive surfaces for crawling:
“[Babies’] muscles are just not developed enough to be able to battle with the slippy floor as well as the ‘trying to coordinate themselves’ that crawling requires. Many babies end up doing an alternative to the cross crawl simply because they cannot get enough grip to help them with the crawling. This really is not ideal as both sides of the brain are not getting the same kind of input and it does impact development.”
And so Ollwyn’s “a-ha” moment happened and Creeper Crawlers was born in 2012 with its first product being an easy grip crawl suit with clever grip technology on the knees and feet that carry a special traction to give babies extra grip on modern flooring whilst also promoting healthy body and brain development. As the company developed and wanted to add other products to its range, it became clear that the business had outgrown its original name, much like young children outgrow their shoes! A somewhat tortuous rebrand process began in 2014 and was completed in 2016. Although Ollwyn’s own experience of using specialist branding agencies proved fruitless, she nonetheless recognises that they can, along with trademark and patents, be an important part of a company’s development and future protection. It is also important to think strategically early on in a company’s development, particularly around brand trading names and intellectual property rights. Creeper Crawlers seemed perfect at the time as it matched exactly the two developmental stages the products covered yet became a limiting factor as she wanted to expand the product range. Taking legal advice (particularly in respect of patents and trademarks) will be money well spent:
“They are incredibly important to a company. So definitely seek advice before spending on them. But if needed do invest in them for the sake of your company. They give a level of protection and legal recourse to you. If there is one thing I have learned in the world of business, is that there are some horrible people out there that would take your company ideas from you and not lose a wink of sleep over it. You need to build your company with as much protection as you possibly can do. It’s not vanity. It’s to help you keep your sanity. And the value in the company.”
Like bringing up children, running a business demands attention that will be all-encompassing and consuming, particularly in the early stages. But, like a child, seeing it flourish and grow makes you incredibly proud. People can always tell you what it’s like but until you take the plunge for yourself, you will never know if you are going to enjoy it or actually be any good at it. As a single parent with no prior business experience, Ollwyn decided to take the leap into the unknown in 2014 and has no regrets.
“I have learned so much. It would have been very easy to stay doing what I was doing in terms of teaching and have a ‘nice’ life but I am actually so glad that I did make the move. I have grown so much as a person over these last 5/6 years. And I have pushed myself beyond what I thought I was ever capable of. And there have been some horrendous times and experiences too, but I have learned how resilient I am and that I will keep on going and that I can keep on going. Nothing comes easy to anyone. It has been my passion for creating amazing products that actually help the development of babies, the feedback from parents that are using the Cognikids products and the support from my own children and family that keep me believing in myself and Cognikids.”
It has, of course, not been plain sailing and there are always sacrifices that need to be made when building a business. Usually they centre around having enough time in the day and being able to balance work/life commitments. Ollwyn cites not having the time or energy to socialise – again, just like having a young baby – but it is only a temporary ‘in the moment’ sacrifice (hopefully!). Ollwyn’s advice to those about to embark on setting up in business would be let go of any guilt around these necessary ‘in the moment’ sacrifices: “As the saying goes, ‘those that mind, don’t matter’; and those that matter, don’t mind’. You need to build a positive network around you that will understand and support you”.
Having decided to ditch working from office premises, all of Cognikids’ staff embrace flexible working and work from home and Ollwyn believes that they are all happier and less stressed by not wasting time commuting. Her own days are never the same but for Ollwyn, the one constant is that they are always busy be it with dealing with suppliers, at meetings, preparing for a tv segment, writing for a magazine or preparing for a lecture. Notwithstanding this, she always makes it a priority to ensure she gets time to spend with her children. An early 5am start allows her to focus on work for a couple of hours before having a calm and chilled breakfast with them:
“I am a firm believer in creating a couple of significant touch points in the day with your kids that you sit and eat together and chat. I also believe that how you start your day will carry through with you for the whole day so I really focus on having a calm house for the boys going out to school. The last thing you want is for your kids to be going out the door revved up from a frantic morning. That will definitely stay with them all day and it does not get them in to a ‘ready to learn’ zone at all.”
When you listen to Ollwyn, having a purpose and focus is a recurring theme and although it could be said the company is still in its infancy, Ollwyn has an ambitious plan for her ‘baby’ and wants it to be “The Apple of the baby sector” which is a very bold statement but, as she says:
“Yes it sure is a bold statement. But that’s been a big learning for me on this business journey… not to be shy or afraid to make these statements and let the world know my vision for my company. Convey my passion for my company and products and where I intend to bring Cognikids. It’s a simple lesson but it actually has a profound impact in a conversation. If I don’t believe in my company and my products then no one else will. So let the world know that Cognikids will be global and household name in the coming future. We are literally only starting out on this journey but are steadily making progress. I think that building a business is a little like brain development, slow and steady is the best option. There really is no shortcut. Lay down great foundations.”
So, be it bringing up a child or building a business, it starts with baby steps. With help and support, they are (hopefully) both soon running. For Ollwyn both her family and her business will remain the “apple of her eye”.